The fingers were tamping a woman into a wall//A body into a pipe, and the smoke rising.
–”The Detective,” Plath
She sent me the teal blue postcard, the one with the owl
smoking a cigarette under a tree sprouting small houses,
amid white shoots in glass vases, tiny taproots tangled
vying for air. When we were friends, she knew I loved
my nicotine, and owls, she knew what I feared.
This was the list of what we needed for our altar,
the one we built behind her house, under the porch
where we put out our cigarettes: all the colors of mid-fall,
rich gold and red, burnt rust, nothing true; root-food, the gourd;
tools: a knife, a sickle; an orange yarn God’s eye.
(Oui, in French. Yes. Ja, yes, auf deutsch, in German.
Yes and yes. You’ve seen the ouija. You’ve levitated the dead girl
off your basement floor. Yes and yes. Your eye, the clear
planchette, shaped like a heart, like a beak, moved by one syncopated
pulse. Intent is the silver pin scraping the fake wood board.)
The postcard implied intention: the owl roosts by the house tree
tending her collection of cutlings. Whoever receives the card
watches buried things in the vases. The tree will grow and
the houses will dangle from branches, balance in her crooks. The owl
won’t go for long without a smoke and it makes it hard to breathe.
But she sent this before I was a ghost–.
I found it buried in my room in the shadow of the old maple.
I am not the ghost, she wrote, you are. This is the list
of possible ghosts: the blue smoke, the one red leaf,
woman with a gag, the envied one, the gibbous platinum moon.
The houses in the tree the owl smokes under must be nests.
Or a goldenrod fruit unfit to eat, poisonous as what falls from a yew.
These are the things you know when you’re a ghost. You know
not to conjure with a surreal folk art postcard. You know
what’s dead is dead, even if you left it buried and breathing.
In the basement of St. Nikolas’s Orthodox Church
on Bridge Street Neck in Salem
I hugged my friend who wore, on her herringbone coat’s lapel,
three gold pins: a dragonfly, a bee, a beetle
with a pearl thorax. I said I’d always wanted a gold bug
pin, and she said, choose one, but not the dragonfly,
which is what I hoped she’d say. I chose
the beetle, but I have to tell you how
the fourteen stations of the cross–each panel
marking the hours of a gruesome death—were embellished
in gold leaf, so that the metal absorbed the dim lights
and shone. The haloes, the icons, the women weeping,
the crown of leafy thorns, even the strips of skin torn
from the lash, the stab wound through ribs, shone.
Jennifer Martelli is the author of The Uncanny Valley and After Bird. Her work has appeared in Thrush, [Pank], Glass Poetry Journal, and Tinderbox Poetry Journal. Jennifer Martelli is the recipient of the Massachusetts Cultural Council Grant in Poetry. She is the co-curator for The Mom Egg VOX Folio.